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Surviving systemd – a quick look at a few alternatives…

June 5th, 2016 2 comments

Regardless of why (and there a number of valid reasons), you might like to avoid using such a large project without so much as a specification or standard behind it.  Fortunately there are still a number of options out there if you don’t want a systemdOS clone.  I’ll present three options ranging from could do better to plausible and then finally the best in class.

Devuan

Sadly I have to say Devuan is a real disappointment, its taken a very long time to get to beta let alone release and while it provides you with a familiar Debian like environment (before Debian morphed into yet another systemdOS clone) I have to say I have very serious reservation about the security of Devuan and this is not down to any particular defaults, but solely to lack of regular package updates.  It appears as if they have taken Debian packages and rooted them firmly in cement.  Opting for a fork of udev instead of a more actively pursued eudev (from Gentoo) I have to wonder how much day to day work is being done on vdev, although it does seems there is a package for eudev this isn’t installed by default.

All in all I’m really not sure about the viability of Devuan they seem to have taken a long time to provide a lot of old packages, with very sparse updates, the back ports repo looks empty and I’m unsure what their policy is regarding timely updates to packages for security updates (recently published zero days etc).  You might think I’m being harsh but where more than a week can go by without an update it doesn’t inspire confidence.

Gentoo

The only real criticisms you can level at Gentoo is the constant compiling and its quite technical nature, you’re not going to leave this installed on some none technical relatives computer unless you visit them regularly and probably if they also cook for you, you’re looking at extended building of packages as often as every few days – while you can lash something up to compile in the wee small hours – not everyone leaves their computer on 24/7 and it certainly wouldn’t be a hands off affair… That said hardware is faster today then it ever was and AMD have some 32+ core chips on the horizon that look promising so…. who knows….

Of course the real place that Gentoo shines is in its flexibility, you can configure most packages to work with (or without need for) many different dependencies and this level of flexibility is unprecedented maybe only approached by an adventurous off piste riffle through the LFS

If you are confident in your technical ability and don’t mind you cpu grinding away while you are doing other things, Gentoo should definitely not be discarded out of hand.

Void Linux

For a while this OS did struggle with my favourite waste of time and money (Steam) but they have by now got a firm grasp on avoiding the less than ideal implementation of SSL that many others seem to lean towards.  This isn’t the only indication they aren’t scared of doing something different for the sake of improving things (not just to be new!), while I’m not convinced of any desperate need to improve sysv – runit plays its role just fine, for a little bit of learning its a low overhead low pain replacement.  There really isn’t any need to add a whole extra layer to the userland just to “solve” a none problem that’s not intrinsically that complex.

This rolling release is maintained brilliantly and there are updates usually on a daily basis, the package manager (xbps) while it take a little learning is fast and has yet to choke on me in some of the spectacular ways I’ve seen RPM do in my past history.  I’ve left a number of none technical people with Void on their machines and while the xbps gui (OctoXbps) needs some explaining (it could be a little more intuitive) I’ve basically had a hands off experience with their machines. Xbps will even allow some actions without root access, for example you can synchronise the repo in memory (the sync is volatile), this allows you to check for an update without root credentials – coupled with zenity its trivial to whip up a GUI script to notify you of updates without need to type a password after log in ! There are a lot of options and its a powerful suite of tools.  Another nice touch is the vkpurge tool which lets you easily get rid of old kernels properly – something often not so well implemented on some systems.

 

So there really is life after systemd and despite people wanting to dictate exactly how your machine should be set up, you still can have a system that feels distinct, flexible and easy to use… Maybe Linux will survive the corporate onslaught….

Introducing Chris C, our occasional guest writer.
This article was originally published at his personal website here.

Categories: Chris C, Linux Tags:

Enter the Void! First impressions of Void Linux

January 23rd, 2016 1 comment
Void Linux

Void Linux

While Gentoo is a great way to spin your own flavour of Linux, after a year I’ve found that recompiling packages every time you do an update becomes a bit of a drag. With that in mind I decided to look around for an alternative distribution, and while nothing is 100% perfect I have to say I really am very happy with Void Linux. There are a number of “live” iso images which will happily boot from a USB stick, I only looked at two of the images Cinnamon and Xfce, while Cinnamon was all very pretty and all that, I couldn’t get the audio volume widget to show itself and besides I didn’t see any real advantage. I’ve long been a fan of Xfce basically because of what it doesn’t try to do, you don’t get the kitchen sink (thankfully) but what you do get works solidly.

Now its entirely possible that I missed something obvious with the void_installer script but it has two distinct behaviours depending on what installation source you choose. If you choose to install from the internet what you get is a bare minimum of packages (command line only) and you’ll be left with a fair bit of configuration to do for yourself – this isn’t always a bad thing if for example you have some specific use maybe an embedded kiosk for example. For more usual desktop use, its better to choose the installation media itself as the source, this basically copies and configures the “live” image onto your machine. I did find that after an update I had to manually delete the old kernel, but once I did that and a few more of the usual chores one normally expects when installing a new system – (eventually after correctly using the installer!) I found myself in possession of a really nice system.

Void is a sleek system, obviously well engineered and the best thing has to be the package manager – xbps comprises in a small suite of interrelated console applications, which do just one narrow function each, for example given the choice of xbps-install, xbps-query, xbps-remove etc you can make a good guess at what they do. As you’d expect each xbps app if run without parameters gives you a quick run down of commands and parameters. One thing I did notice with xbps is its fast, and no mistake! There is a graphical package manager too (octoxbps) which is both familiar but refreshingly slightly different (and not just for the sake of it either) I didn’t manage to find an update reminder but the xbps tools are easy to work with and I was able to make a simple script to do a dry run update (so nothing’s changed) from this I can infer the number of updates that need to be done.

#!/bin/bash
n=`xbps-install -Snu | wc -l`
if [ $n -gt 0 ]
 then
 if [ $n -eq 1 ]
 then
 m="there is a system update to do"
 else
 m="there are $n system updates to do"
 fi
 zenity --info --text="$m"
 fi

I auto run this when the desktop environment starts, keeping package information synced and warning me of updates – this will be most useful when installed on machines that I maintain for others who let us say just need a gentle reminder about updates…

Of course everything was going far too well (spoiling my fun! just working like that) the only one big issue I had was with steam, but the Void forum soon came to my aid with a work around, a particular version of the Xorg driver for Intel gpu’s was causing some kind of networking issue (of all things) I won’t bore you with the details but suffice to say its working with a “little” persuasion!

I did notice pulse audio is installed by default, which seemed a little odd as I’m not sure it provides a great deal for the extra overhead, uninstalling pulse audio doesn’t break anything and getting Alsa going is just a case of enabling the daemon in the alsa-utils package and adding the usual Alsa configuration (~/.asoundrc)

pcm.!default {
 type plug
 slave {
 pcm "hw:1,0"
 }
 }
 ctl.!default {
 type hw
 card 1
 }

I’ve since found a better way to configure ALSA – a quote from their website

Neither .asoundrc or /etc/asound.conf is normally required. You should be able to play and record sound without either (assuming your mic and speakers are hooked up properly). If your system won’t work without one, and you are running the most current version of ALSA, you probably should file a bug report.

That said it did assume the HDMI output was the default so an even simpler config for the kernel module itself allowed me to disable HDMI sound which I have no use for…

/etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base.conf 

options snd_hda_intel enable=1 index=0
options snd_hda_intel enable=0 index=1

Your system might differ but its not really a problem, its just nice there are no enforced and/or needless package dependencies like there are with some other distributions.

Further testing centred on Java development, I knew if I was going to hit any major show stoppers that Jgles2 (with its multiple build systems) would likely show up issues. Not unusually for Void, Ant’s package was bang up to date (wish I could say the same of Gentoo – as at the time of writing Ant is languishing at version 1.9.2 which isn’t enough to compile Lwjgl….) installing g++, make and pkg-config had the complete build system for Jgles2 working as I’d expect.

While its still early days, and its not impossible I could find some wrinkles – all in all so far Void seems a positive experience and well worth considering.

Introducing Chris C, our occasional guest writer.
This article was originally published at his personal website here.

Categories: Chris C, Linux Tags: